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‘Just what I needed today’: the respite of Schwartz Rounds

Becky Platt 07 July 2017

Becky Platt, a Schwartz Rounds facilitator at West Hertfordshire NHS Trust, shares her experiences of being a facilitator. Her story beautifully articulates both the struggles and the joys of the role.

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I’m in a rush. Not in the mindset I need to be in at all. I’ve just spent an emotional 2 hours with a family whose son died a few weeks ago. “Some days we’re devastated,” they told me, “most days it’s a thousand times worse than that”. They talked about hope and about how small kindnesses made all the difference.

I steady myself with a cup of tea over the pre-round lunch, I welcome the panellists and check they’re ok. This, after all, is my role for the next hour and a half. I tell my co-facilitator he may have to pick up some slack for me today.

I console myself with the fact that the panel have been well prepared. They are talking about their experiences as patients or relatives; the Round is titled ‘From the other side’.

As I listen to them I am moved by their honesty, their bravery, their ability to share deeply personal stories. And I look out to the audience. They are hanging on every word. No one is fidgeting. There’s not a phone in sight. Some are visibly moved. All are rapt.

There is talk about how the little things create lasting memories: the nurse who spontaneously burst into song; the patient who was able to drink one last espresso because it was delivered on a mouthcare sponge.

And then it’s my turn to speak. I stand and look at the audience. I tell them how moved I am by the panel and that I would love to hear their reflections. And then I wait.

The initial silence used to worry me. What if no one ever spoke? Now I know that this silence and stillness is important. I am calmed by it, as the audience are.

“Well, that was a four-tissue event” says a voice near the front. There is a moment of laughter, a release of the tension. Other speakers now, commending the bravery of the panel, reflecting on how “breaking the rules” is often what’s needed to make things right for patients. People sharing stories about their own experiences and those of loved ones. Us two facilitators are barely saying a word, it’s just working.

I check the time. The hour is nearly up. And then there is a story about a more negative experience. An example of rules getting in the way of what was right. I don’t want to end here. I look across at my co-facilitator. We are a close team. Something in my glance tells him, “not yet”. No words are spoken or mouthed but I know he’s saying he’ll wait. I know this audience will find a positive to end on. I give them a moment and it comes in the form of a new face at Rounds.

I can feel the moment of tension that filled the room slip away.

We close.

I know that this was just what I needed today. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I didn’t share my experience from the morning, but to be in that safe space and to feel the compassion and support in the room made it better.